New poll: Open records requests aren’t really the hassle some public officials have claimed | Thursday Morning Coffee

March 14, 2019 7:05 am

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers
You might have heard that this week is ‘Sunshine Week,’ the annual celebration of the free press, open records, government transparency, and other things that are principally exciting to journalists and policy wonks.

Op-Eds are written. Speeches are given. Seminars are held. And, generally, readers skip past those columns and stories on their way to Final Four scores or … worse … ‘Gil Thorp,’ who, we’re pretty sure, has been coaching the same high basketball game since roughly 1964.

And we don’t even have a comics section or sports page … so think about where that leaves us.

Which is not to say that matters of government transparency are not ‘Yuuugely’ important.

Don’t believe us? Turn on cable news where you’re guaranteed to see people yelling at each other about obstruction of justice and the various and sundry other offenses committed by the Leader of the Free World and his Mini-Romanov offspring.

That’s reinforced this Thursday morning by some new survey data released by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which finds records requests are up, and that regular citizens (51.2 percent) and corporate interests (30.2 percent) are the most frequent requesters of records. Ink-stained (electron-spattered?) wretches trail in third place at 3.8 percent.

Some other fast facts:

  • Public officials may complain that it’s onerous and time-consuming responding to records requests, but more than nine in 10 public agencies (92 percent) reported spending less than five hours a week processing open records requests in 2018.
  • The median number of requests received in 2018 was 13.5. The average was 43.2, reminding us, if nothing else, that we really need to brush up on our medians, means, and averages.
  • Corporate requesters are “making far more requests than anyone anticipated,” state Open Records Office boss Erik Arneson said in a statement. “With more than 30 percent of requests being from commercial entities, it makes good sense to allow agencies to charge staff time when responding to those requests.”

As the data makes clear, “there is is no evidence of any widespread abuse of the Right-to-Know Law. We can, and should, try to address situations where that might be happening but we must be extremely careful not to overreach,” Arneson said in his statement.

You can read the full survey results here.

Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso
 interviews state Rep.-elect Movita Johnson-Harrell, who’s about to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Johnson-Harrellwon a special election to West Philly’s 190th House District on Tuesday night.
Caruso updates on the sexual assault allegations against state Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler.
Sarah Anne Hughes has the latest Wolf administration argument in favor of a $15/hr minimum wage.
Elizabeth Hardison has a look at the resurgence of local gun ordinances.
Gov. Tom Wolf joined with a bipartisan group of Midwestern governors to resist President Donald Trump’s plan to cut Great Lakes clean-up funds.
The conservative Family Research Council is out with its annual legislative scorecard. Here’s how the members of Pa’s House and Senate delegation fared.

On the Opinion side of the house, there’s a pair of op-Eds, one of them from a Villanova University prof, taking a look at the explosive Operation Varsity Blues college cheating scandal that brought down Aunt Becky from ‘Full House.’

Residents of a West Philly neighborhood are ‘heartbroken’ over the closing of a Shop-Rite supermarket. Owners are blaming the city’s soda tax for the shutdown, The Inquirerreports.
PennLive looks at what’s next for Rite-Aid after the regional employer went through a round of job cuts and a management reshuffling.
Developers in Allentown are planning a beer garden for an old railroad trestle over the Lehigh RiverThe Morning Call reports.

Here’s your Pi Day #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

After 18 years, a recovery center in Kensington is finally ‘going legit,’ BillyPenn reports.
The Post-Gazette has full coverage of the Rosfeld trial in Pittsburgh.
A team from Drexel University is a finalist in the design for the HyperloopWHYY-FMreports.
Unemployment in Pittsburgh is at its lowest ebb since 1970, WESA-FM reports.
Stateline takes a look at efforts to regulate hemp-based foods and concludes no one knows what the heck they’re doing.
PoliticsPA asks its readers to choose this year’s Democratic Philly mayoral nominee — because that’s basically the election, right there.
As the world was waking up, Beto O’Rourke announced his Democratic White House bid this Thursday morning. Politico has the story.
The Senate is learning that resisting the White House takes a bit of work, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House Democratic Policy Committee revs up the per-diem machine with a road trip to scenic Monroeville, Pa. (second prize, two days in Monroeville), where they’ll talk transportation issues during a 2 p.m. public hearing.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes to Sen. Wayne Fontana, who celebrated on March 12. Congratulations.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a recent favorite from Ten Tonnes. It’s “Better than Me.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Chicago stayed in the hunt for a wild card berth on Wednesday, slipping past Toronto 5-4.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.